My father died on Tuesday. Through a constant whirlwind of creativity, I have kept ahead of the emotion, desperately laying lines of track in front of the steam train of grief that rumbled behind me.
But yesterday, the engine’s prong caught my heels and set me to stumble; the wheels were upon me in a moment, and I was crushed beneath their weight. I lie forgotten now upon the sleepers, a parched and broken thing, my lidless eyes fixed upon the glare of a dark and distant sun: my father is dead.
Emotion now leaks from me like water from a colander, leaving me feeling dirty and soiled. Grief is a carrion-feeder, and it has rolled me through its claws, spitting me out pecked, ripped and raw. The pain is physical: it slithers through hollows in my guts I did not ever know were there and grips at my heart, squeezing clumsy rhythms from its pulse; my body strains for release from a pain that is inescapable and coldly cruel: even the condemned man can at least draw comfort from the shadow of the noose and know that his suffering will end.
As a young man, I pictured growing old as a series of stages. It is not. We grow old through a process of accretion: age gathers against us like drifts of dead leaves blown against the foot of a fence: the baby disappears below the infant, the infant below the child, the child below the adolescent . . .
But the ashes of each iteration remain, withered to charcoal, but still capable of combustion. And when the winds of Life blow hard, they lift the leaves, expose the embers, and ignite the fires of everything we have already been. Who among us can truly claim, on occasions, not to crave the warm reassurance afforded the baby? Or to feel sometimes the fear of a lost child?
Grief has stripped me bare, leaving all of these different aspects exposed, each one uniquely painful. The baby within me wails incessantly, the child strains and reaches out for arms that are no longer there to lift, hold and comfort.
And so I find myself today suddenly yanked into a future I never thought I would have to face, reflecting upon time wasted, words left unsaid, and the fact my own children will likely one day face this horror, too . . .